Reinvented Land

27 Jul

Port Meadow spring 2015

‘Lie awake at night even in our composed Britain and think how the land about you is changing every hour, as surely as your own body and as irresistibly.’ ( Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land )

As an artist observing landscape, while at the same time working with archaeologists, I have been made aware of past  changes made by humans  in a landscape . As I observe and draw the ground before me, there is a sense of  human trace, of layers of human marks . Could you say , therefore, that there is a tension between what landscape has been at different stages and what it is now? this tension is maybe felt by all of us in different ways , but is it emphasized , the more information that is known about this perceived land ?Are we observing this landscape with a single viewpoint ,or are we observing the land from  several view points , by engaging with this knowledge ?

As an example , while drawing , I am aware that the hedgerow and path that I see now , has been carefully planned and planted, it has not always been there; there was a different perceived space, in a previous time, but in the same geographic location.

plot 3

Cripley Meadow Allotments , Oxford , no 3

plot 2

Cripley Meadow Allotments, Oxford , no 2

plot 1

Cripley Meadow Allotments , Oxford, no 1

This feeling is understood however , at the same time as seeing the land as it is now, so it is almost like you are seeing ( thinking) on two ( maybe several ) levels in the same moment of observation.

The closest I can parallel this way of thinking visually , is to play that almost child like activity , of inventing pictures from clouds, from scratches on a wall, or on wood grain. You suddenly see a face , a tree, something recognizable but in a different material. You then switch from seeing the tree, the face, back to seeing the grain of wood or cloud again, this feeling goes back and forth.

Looking at landscape ( as opposed to clouds and grain of wood) does not result in the same output but the similarities lie in the process of constant vacillation from one state to another. The act of drawing landscape is an exciting puzzle , it seems.

Harlow 1

Harlow, Roman Temple site.

Recent discussion on identity  with the EnglaID team , has lead me to try and think how this approach can be applied visually to identity and landscape. My recent thoughts on these links is to look at memory and , in particular , the act of revisiting a known space or land , after many years.

How many of us are struck by two notions when we do this : the small changes that have occurred in our absence , for instance : a new shop, a road, the absence of a line of trees ; and the details within that space that have somehow remained ? The latter can resurface from surprising sources . Details that have been mentally buried but now vividly recognized : a concrete post that leans a little, a mark on a pavement, the same daisy patch.

Grafted onto these two realizations, that of constancy and that of change, is a measure of ones own identity , which has evolved with time but is still ones personal identity , just as the landscape that you have revisited is the same space , but with other layers of reinvention.

Indeed, is human identity quite often measured alongside changes in a land ? when these changes are slow and moderate , the human identity seems in sink with the land  , but when in contrast , the land is so reinvented that the previous state is not recognized , is this when humans feel that some part of their identity has been attacked , or reinvented for the better, depending on the previous state ?

‘If you can imagine the one family continuously occupying the same land for 40,000 years or more, using it not just to sustain life , but as a place to worship, where every tree , rock, and water hole has significance, you will get some understanding of the importance of land to indigenous people.’ ( Tania Major, Kokoberra people 2010 )

‘ The history of the earth’s crust , then, has a rhythm. Denudation weakens it , the mountains are rucked up and the molten layer below forces itself towards the surface, then the storm dies away and denudation begins again. If the movement could be speeded up , as in a cinematograph, we could see a rise and fall as though of breathing.’ (Jacquetta Hawkes, A Land )

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